I’m sure all you writers have heard that your characters need quirks … especially your major characters, such as the protagonist and antagonist. Foreshadowing and background adds quirks to the character, makes him unique. Especially if the quirk has an effect on the story and ties in with the character’s personality, his problems or desire. It can be a subtle quirk, an oddity, an out-of-place physical appearance, a gait, the way she talks while twisting her hair, even his tendency to say “UM” very loudly in the middle of sentence transition. They can also make your characters memorable and even act as a symbol to remember a character by. Jack Sparrow, for example, has that strange, (and yet awesome) walk of his which communicates that his character is a bit off the rocker. Ahab has that wooden peg for a leg because Moby Dick bit it off during their first encounter, which is why he now wants vengeance upon Moby Dick in the story.
M.G. Bush from Writing Geekery says, defining a character’s quirk: “It’s a peculiarity. Specifically something unusual in behavior, habit or personality, according to most definitions. An odd physical trait can pass for a foundational quirk as long as it has deep ties to the backstory or part of the personality.” This is a very interesting article, I suggest you check it out.
So, obviously, character quirks are important things to have in writing fiction and character development. They help tie the reader to the character. And I agree. Personally, I think that quirks help communicate to the reader that your character is not a perfect and flawless person, while also making that character unique.
Since I’m a writer, and I want to make sure I’m developing my characters well, I want to make sure I’m not overdoing anything, because there is such a thing as developing characters too much … so I’ve heard. I do understand that quirks are needed. I’m not going to say that they’re not. But there are limits to using this art in characterization.
First off, I think that just one quirk is enough. Too many can easily make the character seem overdone, if you will, and so strange that the reader will feel alienated, unable to connect with that character. There probably aren’t a lot of you who love the idea of quirks so much that you just keep sticking them onto your character, but this is just a warning. When I first discovered the importance of these helpful little add-ons, I thought that I finally had the key to character development! Nope. It takes way more than just quirks to create a good character with depth. Character is an art, and the quirk is just a different paintbrush.
I mentioned earlier that a character’s quirk should have a major effect on the main plot and/or communicate the character’s personality. Harry Potter’s got the scar Voldemort gave him. Imagine him now without a scar: “Hey, there wouldn’t be any Harry Potter then … ” And that’s what I mean when the quirk ties into the plot so that it largely effects the whole story, while also making the character memorable. When it comes to the personality, consider the Hobbit, Dr. Watson, and Arthur Dent. Martin Freeman does an excellent job in acting as characters that just aren’t all there. He’s always like, What are they doing in my house? and I still don’t understand and Where’s the tea? (Which is why I’m still convinced there should be a T-shirt with all those quotes of his.)
So if you want a quirk for your character, go with something that brings out the story more or the character’s personality. Don’t just throw a random one on him and hope it works. Think about it. I still need to think about it. Adding a variety of such traits could even bring about contradictions, a whole other art aside from quirks that is important for unique and non stereotypical characters.
Larry Brooks says don’t confuse quirks with characterization on NaNoWriMo. He claims that they “hardly ever ultimately define your hero or antagonist.” He has some good points, too, I just don’t agree with what he says about not using them at all. Hear me out here. There are some really good characters with quirks that fit them and the story well, and there are some really good characters who don’t have any at all. Think of your favorite books and movies, or your favorite characters. Do they have quirks? Why do they need them in the story? Could they do without them? What would they be like without the quirk? I suggest you think of these questions while rethinking your character development.
So, summed up, quirks are important. However, be careful when trying to tack them on a character. Make sure it fits the personality or plot, and don’t overdo them so much that it seems unnatural. Think about it this way: we human beings, as real people, are unique. Not only our personalities, but our habits and quirks are what differentiate me from you, him from her. There is only one you and no one else in the whole world is just like you. Use real people in your life as examples of unique characters: doing just this may make your characters seem more real.
Ok, Jack, you’re done being an example. You can run off now.
What are your opinions when it comes to quirks in characters? I’d love to hear your thoughts and alternatives! And have a look around, you might find something else you like.